When the Disney animation film Beauty and the Beast debuted in 1991, I fell in love with it, even seeing the musical on Broadway. Once I became a mother, I couldn’t wait to introduce my daughter Addie to Belle, the mademoiselle who embodies so many endearing attributes. Belle is a voracious reader, more interested in the characters in her books than she is in the flirtations of the town brute, Gaston. She loves her father Maurice dearly, defending him against those in her provincial town who suggest he’s crazy. Belle selflessly sacrifices her own comfort and well-being to ensure Maurice’s safety. Most endearing of all, Belle is capable of seeing past others’ physical features while somehow managing to expose their true beauty, the goodness that exists in their hearts. Beauty and the Beast endures as “a tale as old as time” while Belle remains my favorite Disney character.
Ever since Disney released the trailer of its new live-action adaptation, also entitled Beauty and the Beast, I knew I could not wait to take Addie to “be my guest.” The 2017 version of the film stars Emma Watson (a.k.a. Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series) as Belle and Dan Stevens (a.k.a. Matthew Crawley from the television series Downton Abbey) as the Beast/Prince. Would their performances as “barely even friends” flow as seamlessly as the animated film, in which “then somebody bends unexpectedly?”
Joining Watson and Stevens are an all-star cast, who bring other well known characters to life. The Beast’s household staff are played by Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), and Ian McKellen (Cogsworth).
Other familiar members of Belle’s French village also come to life on the big screen. Kevin Kline plays the wacky inventor (now artist) and father to Belle, Maurice. The antagonist Gaston (Luke Evans) and his buffoonish crony LeFou (Josh Gad) try to convince Belle to accept Gaston’s multiple marriage proposals. LeFou, played by the same man who voiced Frozen’s lovable snowman Olaf, is rumored to be Disney’s first homosexual character, a distinction that has brought mixed reactions. Personally, I don’t understand all the controversy since LeFou’s mannerisms are consistent with the animated classic’s, in which LeFou seemed to have a man-crush on Gaston, totally fawning on him in an adoring yet obsequious way.
The live-action version also features feather duster Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), harpsichord Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), and wardrobe Madam Garderobe (Audra McDonald). I noted how the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast featured a lot more diversity; there were interracial couples and people of various skins tones in Belle’s village, including the owner of the library. With the twenty-six years between the animated version and live-action remake, Disney has acknowledged that not all people in France are Caucasian.
I loved how the 2017 version incorporated songs from the animated version, instrumental music from the Broadway version, and new songs to make the story even more endearing. The live-action’s soundtrack features two new songs, plus a new song at the conclusion of the movie (performed by the amazing Céline Dion, who sang the title song with Peabo Bryson in 1991.) In the new adaptation, the title song is beautifully remade by John Legend and Ariana Grande.
The childhoods of each main character are brought to light in this film, giving viewers deeper insight into the Beast’s background as well as Belle’s. Wow! My daughter cried, no, correction, sobbed, as she learned more about each character, as did I!
I was in awe how Disney somehow managed to retell the same story for the third time (including Broadway), and yet I still found myself with tears in my eyes as the story unfolded. I learned to love Belle and the Beast even more than I already did. It’s as if Emma Watson and Dan Stevens were born to play the title characters!
Addie, who held my hand throughout most of the movie, said, “I loved learning more about the characters. It all felt so real!” She described the ballroom scene as magical, and while I doubted anything could top the animated version’s breathtaking dance sequence between Belle and the Beast, somehow the live-action’s rendering was even more extraordinary. The story remains “true as it can it be.” Disney stole my heart again!
Movie times: click here
Genre: Family, Fantasy, Musical
Director: Bill Condon
Actors: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, with Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson
Rating: PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images
Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes